Policing the Public Schools: How Schools Are Becoming Even More Like Prisons

In his book, Free To Learn, Boston College psychology professor Peter Gray makes the connection between school and prison. He writes: “Everyone who has ever been to school knows that school is prison, but almost nobody beyond school age says it is. It’s not polite.” It’s a prison in that young people are compelled to attend school by law, are unable to voluntarily leave, are told what to do and when, and are required to consume a standardized curriculum.

As if schooling was not already jail-like enough, adding armed police officers to the mix confirms the metaphor. In public schools across the country, police officers are increasingly present, costing taxpayers millions of dollars for a vague notion of safety. In fact, some estimates suggest that over two-thirds of high school students currently attend a school with a police officer on site.

Increased School Security

While some school districts, particularly urban ones, have had school safety officers present for a while now, concern about school shootings is driving an increase in numbers. Tennessee, for instance, is dedicating $50 million to put a police officer in every school, reaching beyond populated districts into rural communities. The Tennessee bill received bipartisan support and was signed into law by the governor this month, joining the ranks of other states that are implementing similar policies.

After the horrific Parkland school shooting in Florida last year that left 17 people dead, the state legislature mandated an armed guard in every public school. Nevermind that Parkland actually had an armed guard at its school who didn’t enter the school to engage the gunman during the shooting. He subsequently resigned.

Armed guards and police officers at schools are no guarantee of school safety and, in fact, may cause more harm than good. Northeastern University criminology professor James Alan Fox explains in his recent USA Today commentary: “Transforming schools into armed camps does more to elevate fear than alleviate it.” He adds that while school shootings are devastating, they are incredibly rare. “Although the sense of safety of schools has been shaken,” says Fox, “it is important not to view such occurrences as the ‘new normal,’ as some have suggested.”

Over-Criminalizing Students

Rather than deterring mass shootings, armed guards at schools often end up over-criminalizing students. Some studies have suggested that police presence at schools leads to more arrests for non-violent crimes and does not improve student behavior. These arrests and other extreme disciplinary measures can thrust children into the criminal justice system at a very early age, helping to fuel what is known as the “school-to-prison pipeline.” Often, it is poor and minority children who are fed into this pipeline by school personnel at startling rates and at young ages, making it difficult to ultimately escape the path to prison. In 2016, for example, 50,000 preschoolers were suspended or expelled from school, with black preschoolers expelled or suspended at twice the rate of their peers.

Prison-like schools may be just the latest factor prompting more parents to opt-out of public schools altogether. How similar to prison do schools need to become before it’s polite to call them what they really are?An article in this week’s Seattle Times explains that more black families in the Seattle area are choosing to homeschool their children, at least partly due to the over-criminalization of black children in Seattle schools, where they are six times more likely to be expelled than white children. Other areas are seeing similar upsurges in homeschooling.

In Tennessee, the most recent state to pass the universal school police officer law, public school enrollment rose by less than 1 percent between 2012 and 2017. According to data I obtained from the Tennessee Department of Education, the number of homeschoolers nearly doubled during that same time frame, from 4,614 homeschoolers in 2012 to 8,843 in 2017.

Parents may be increasingly choosing education freedom over force for their children. That is, when they can choose. In their just-released study, Corey DeAngelis and Martin Lueken find that school choice improves school safety. They write: “We find that private and public charter school leaders tend to be more likely to report ‘never’ having safety problems at their schools than traditional public school leaders.” Providing more choice mechanisms that enable parents to opt-out of assigned district schools could ensure school safety better than armed guards and locked classrooms.

How similar to prison do schools need to become before it’s polite to call them what they really are?

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We’re Undecided Now, So What’re We Gonna Do?

Nobody asked but …

Reading, er listening to another audio book as written by James Bamford, Body of Secrets (subtitle: Anatomy of the Ultra-Secret National Security Agency, from the Cold War through the Dawn of a New Century).  This is a belated follow-through on a published citation from Radley Balko.  I recommend the book highly both for the content on the stated subject, but more importantly for me, the implications about the basic nature of the state and its bureaucracy.  Sometimes Bamford supplies a heavy load of detail, but I honestly could not omit any of them.

This is a paraphrasing of Bamford’s account of the NSA during Nixon’s years — Nixon issued a directive approving of the most aggressive delineation of the USA’s meddling powers.  Some such as the NSA were delighted because it reinforced what they were already doing, while others such as the FBI under J. Edgar Hoover were outraged because it revealed what they were already doing.  Five days later AG Mitchell talked Nixon into rescinding the directive as problematic under the Constitution.  Most in the cloak and dagger community were unaware of either directive.  Why?  Bureaucrats and their bureaus are born out of the spoils system, not out of concepts of good governance.  The ideation of any plan is to serve a special interest, to intervene where we have previously chosen, through logic or care or neglect, NOT to intervene.  Write it down!

The concern arises that 99 and 44/100ths% of the agenda of agencies are out of the control of anyone.  There is a “set it and forget it” syndrome with them all.  I have been in close proximity to the state, man and boy, for over 7 decades (haven’t we all, for varying lengths of time?), and I have never seen a bureau go out of existence.  Please tell me I am wrong, please, I beg you.  Though many instruments of the rulers are obsolete, they are no longer connected to their founding justification, and/or were never connected to their founding justification.

Obviously, the chief attribute of any society of human beings is to foul its own nest.

— Kilgore Forelle

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Big Government and Big Tech versus the Internet and Everyone

Governments around the world began trying to bring the Internet under control as soon as they realized the danger to their power represented by unfettered public access to, and exchange of, information. From attempts to suppress strong encryption technology to the Communications Decency Act in the US and China’s “Great Firewall,” such efforts have generally proven ineffectual. But things are changing, and not for the better.

The European Parliament recently passed a “Copyright Directive” which, if implemented, will force Internet platforms to actively monitor user content instead of putting the burden of proving copyright infringement on those claiming such infringement. The Directive also includes  a “link tax” under which publishers will charge aggregation platforms for traditionally “fair use” excerpts.

The US government’s Committee on Foreign Investment is attempting to force the sale of Grindr, a gay dating app, over “national security” concerns. Grindr is owned by a Chinese company, Beijing Kunlun. CFIUS’s supposed fear is that the Chinese government will use information the app gathers to surveil or even blackmail users in sensitive political and military jobs.

Those are just two current examples of many.

Big Governments and Big Tech are engaged in a long-term mating dance.

Big Governments want to regulate Big Tech because that’s what governments do, and because, as with Willie Sutton and banks, Big Tech is where the Big Tax Money is.

Big Tech wants to be regulated by Big Governments because regulation makes it more difficult and expensive for new competitors to enter the market. Facebook doesn’t want someone else to make it the next MySpace. Google doesn’t want a fresh new face to send it the way of Yahoo.

It’s a mating dance with multiple suitors on all sides.

The US doesn’t like Grindr or Huawei, because FREEDUMB.

The Chinese don’t want uncensored Google or Twitter, because ORDER.

The EU is at least honest about being sexually indiscriminate: It freely admits that it just wants to rigorously screw everyone, everything, everywhere.

Big Tech wants to operate in all of these markets and it’s willing to buy every potential Big Government as many drinks as it takes to them all into the sack.

Everybody wins, I guess. Except the public.

Governments and would-be monopolists are fragmenting what once advertised itself as a Global Information Superhighway into hundreds of gated streets.

Those streets are lined by neatly manicured lawns per the homeowners’ association’s rigorously enforced rules, and herbicide is sprayed on those lawns to kill off the values that made the Internet the social successor to the printing press and the economic successor to the Industrial Revolution.

As Stewart Brand wrote, “Information Wants To Be Free. Information also wants to be expensive. … That tension will not go away.”

Big Tech and Big Government are both coming down, increasingly  effectively,  on the side of “expensive” and on the side of Ford’s  Model T philosophy (“you can have any color you want as long as it’s black”).

They’re killing the Internet. They’re killing the future. They’re killing us.

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The Missing Planks

Prominent presidential candidates are advancing proposals that frankly horrify me.  Should we dismember big tech firms?  Or just give every American adult $1000 a month?  Rather than critique these awful ideas, I’d rather ponder the Dog that Did Not Bark – moderate, common-sense proposals that no major candidate is likely to advocate.  Just a few that have been on my mind lately…

1. Stop REAL ID before it inconveniences tens of millions of American travelers.  Also, order the TSA to stop asking to see your boarding pass twice just to board a plane.

2. Let students fulfill their foreign language requirement with a computer language.  For both high school graduation and public college admission.

3. Charge higher interest rates on student loans for borrowers who are unlikely to successfully finish their degree.  And tell the borrowers why you’re doing this!

4. When someone applies for a building permit, don’t say Yes or No.  Name a price – and make it public.

5. The same goes for health and safety regulation.  Don’t tell firms how to avoid harm.  Charge them for the harms they cause.  If the downside risk is catastrophic, make them buy insurance or post a bond.

6. While we’re at it, why not sell foreigners portable work visas, with an upcharge for dependents?

7. Electronic road pricing!

8. Means-test Social Security and Medicare.

9. Identify the clearest annual waste of $100B in the federal budget.  Advocate the immediate abolition of this waste, with all savings going toward deficit reduction, not new programs.

10. Loudly and graciously thank taxpayers for their service.

Yes, I know that some of these proposals aren’t even in the hands of the federal government, but the same applies to a great deal of what presidential candidates say.  And on reflection, it’s hardly crazy for candidates to make such proposals.  The bully pulpit aside, they can use federal funding to reward state and local governments that move in welcome directions.

So why are all of these planks likely to remain political orphans?  Half are doomed by demagoguery, and the rest by apathy.  Most people hate ideas like #5, #7, and #8; and if they don’t feel the hate spontaneously, any halfway skilled politician can readily kindle it.  In stark contrast, #1 and #2 are probably already popular.  But they fail to inspire passion, so they’re stillborn.

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That Look College Opt-Outs Get

There is a phenomenon I’ve noticed over the nearly 5 years since I decided not to go to college. I’ll call it the college opt-out look.

It happens like this:

PERSON: Are you in school? / Where did you go to school?

YOU: Oh, I didn’t go to university.

PERSON: Oh.

Accompanying this response is a look that suggests you might be less bright than you appear. If the person is nice, they might half-heartedly add something about how “college isn’t for everyone.”

Immediately accompanying that, you’ll find in yourself a desire to justify yourself.

This is a test: will you seek to soften the blow of being different?

“Yes, but I have an awesome job.” 

“Oh, I was accepted into X college/got X scholarship. I just wanted something more.” 

“I didn’t need college – I’m already smarter than my peers and know how to teach myself.”

You could say all these things. But that would be ego and insecurity talking – the same ego and insecurity that you chose to disregard when you chose your own life path around education.

There are going to be plenty of people who believe that you are ignorant, lazy, or unwise for not going to college. They are going to give you plenty of chances to deal with the awkwardness of having made an unconventional decision. You will want desperately to say something to wipe the look of pity or contempt or condescension from their faces.

Or you could own it. You could decide not to bat a lash. You could acknowledge the fact that you don’t have a degree, and move on like it’s not a big deal – because it isn’t. What *is* a big deal is how you live your life and what you do with it.

You might have to put up with some looks of pity, contempt, and condescension. But you can learn to smile inside in response. You’ll be in solidarity with your fellow opt-outs. You’ll be respecting your own decision enough to state it unapologetically. And you’ll live loudly enough that anyone who knows you knows that any prejudice around college opt-outs is nonsense.

Originally published at JamesWalpole.com.

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Wish List Politics: Green No Deal

The word of the month for the Democratic Party’s would-be 2020 presidential nominees is “aspirational.”

“The Green New Deal? I see it as aspirational,” US Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) told Fox News on February 12. She would vote for the resolution introduced by US Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and US Senator Ed Markey (D-MA), but ” if it got down to the nitty-gritty of an actual legislation, as opposed to, ‘Oh, here’s some goals we have’ — uh, that would be different for me.”

Washington governor Jay Inslee echoed Klobuchar on March 1 as he announced his own candidacy, calling the Green New Deal an “aspirational document” and promising his own proposals on climate change.

“Aspirational” is another of saying that the Green New Deal isn’t a real legislative proposal. It’s just a feel-good wish list of things its proponents think Americans want and want us to believe they want too. It’s not legislation aimed at actually making those things happen.

The resolution asserts “a sense of” Congress, “[r]ecognizing the duty of the Federal Government to create a Green New Deal.” If the resolution passed, it wouldn’t create any “deal.” It would just assure Americans that those who passed it really, really want to do so.

It’s full of stuff most people would probably like to see: Prosperity and economic security for all people, clean air and water, healthy food, justice and equity, high-quality health care, adequate housing, just about everything good and desirable except for free ice cream and ponies (perhaps Ocasio-Cortez should have called in Vermin Supreme to consult).

But that’s only half of a “deal” (per Oxford Dictionaries, “an agreement entered into by two or more parties for their mutual benefit, especially in a business or political context”).

If we get all that good stuff, what do we give up for it?

The resolution calls, fuzzily,  for “a new national, social, industrial, and economic mobilization on a scale not seen since World War II and the New Deal,” but it doesn’t advertise that as a cost. It calls such a “mobilization” an “opportunity” and claims that its named predecessors “created the greatest middle class that the United States has ever seen.”

In reality, FDR’s “New Deal” stretched the Great Depression out for years (as of 1940, the unemployment rate was still nearly twice that of 1930), and World War Two diverted  more than 16 million Americans away from productive employment to “employment” which killed nearly half a million of them.

What produced “the greatest middle class that the United States has ever seen” was luck of location: At the end of the war, the US was the only world power with its industrial plant still largely intact, its factories being located beyond enemy bomber range. The economic impact of the “mobilizations” themselves was to keep people poor, dependent on government, and willing to be ordered around by the likes of FDR.

The “mobilization”  the  resolution calls for would likely turn out the same way. Lots of sacrifice, little benefit.

Sorry, Alexandria and Ed: No “deal.”

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